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GAPP 50 years anniversary
Lynn Wood

Before starting a family, Lynn Wood traveled the world as part of her work in manufacturing. When she settled down in rural Minnesota, she told her children stories about one of her favorite countries to visit: Germany. When her daughters signed up to participate in a GAPP exchange, the Wood family volunteered their home to host German students. We sat down with Lynn to ask her what it was like to be an American host for GAPP.

Lynn Wood and family - German American Partnership Program© Goethe Institut New York

Tell us a bit about yourself and your experience in Germany.
My name is Lynn Wood. I live in Litchfield, Minnesota, with my husband, Mark. I’m originally from Minneapolis, but I moved to Litchfield after my time in manufacturing. The firm I worked for would send me to Germany, mainly the industrial sections. I loved it there; even though I didn’t get to see what tourists usually see, it was still exciting and a lot of fun. In my experience with German people, I found them curious and engaging.
When I moved to rural Minnesota, I gave up that job so I could gain a family life. It’s been good; I’ve never regretted making that decision. I like Litchfield, and I think that it offers a unique experience for GAPP students. It’s very small compared to the cities they come from, so they get to see what it’s like in small-town America.

Can you tell me more about Litchfield?
It’s a small town with about 6,000 people, with a lot of space between everyone. Our house, for instance, is eleven miles from the high school. Even though we are a bit spread out, Litchfield is a very close community. For instance, we have this thing in town called a “Buddy Family.” When your children are small and you live farther away, you need to have a buddy family closer to the school in case there is a bad storm. That way, if travel is terrible, they have a place to stay until the road becomes safe. Basically, Litchfield has a lot of people looking out for each other.

When did your two daughters make the exchange?
Our daughter Laura went first, in 2010, then Anna went in 2012. Our daughters didn’t take German, but it turns out that wasn’t a requirement to go. I remember Laura telling us how exciting the festivities surrounding the 2010 World Cup were. Germany lost, but she still had fun watching the matches with her new friends. All of our daughters got along great with the exchange students here as well.

When did you host exchange students, and what was it like?
The German students came around the same time, starting in 2010. It’s funny because one of our exchange students was also named Laura, so we had two Lauras for a month. Our daughters actually each volunteered our family to host, so we had two exchange students at the same time. It ended up being great, and we made arrangements for the month so everyone had a place to sleep.
The first two girls who came were Angela and Deniz, and then Laura two years later. Laura and Henny, another GAPP alumnae, also returned two years after that, and we’ve kept in close contact with her ever since. We also stayed in touch with Angela, and three years ago we visited her in Boston. She also came to Minnesota for Thanksgiving, which was really fun.

Did the German students have specific expectations of the U.S.?
I think that the biggest difference for them was transportation. In rural Minnesota, and in most of the U.S., we depend so much on cars. That surprised the students, the lack of public transportation. It was an interesting experience for them, being in cars so much, especially with other teenagers. They had to travel by car to get pretty much anywhere, including school.
They also told us that bread is not very good in the United States. I’ve heard that complaint from a lot of Germans! That's one of the things we appreciate most about German culture, the directness. My husband and I are looking forward to having good German bread when we visit.

Do you have a favorite memory from the exchange?
One of my favorite memories is when the students prepared a German meal for us. They cooked and cooked and cooked; it was a massive explosion of food and dishes. I believe they made schnitzel, cabbage, and beets. It was delicious! I think they used every pot and pan in the house. Of course like most teenagers, once the meal was over, they weren’t too interested in the cleanup. But it was still very nice, and my husband and I didn’t mind washing up.

What effect did the GAPP exchange have on you and your family?
It just opened up more significant avenues of understanding. It’s such a wonderful opportunity to feel connected to another part of the world. We still keep in contact with the students, and it’s so great to see the adults they’ve grown into. Angela, for instance, works in the biomedical field.
Even our extended family benefited from the GAPP exchange. We have had students come to family gatherings, birthday parties, even thanksgiving. It affects far more people than just those in GAPP; I think it broadens everyone these students meet.

What advice would you give to a family that may be considering hosting for GAPP, or a student considering taking an exchange?
I would tell them to have no hesitation. Open your door and invite the student in completely. Make sure to tell the students to open themselves up to the experience as well. I remember one student that really exemplified that, Nabil. Nabil didn’t stay with us, but we got to know him, and he made a huge impression on us. He was from Karlsruhe, and when he came to Litchfield one of the first things he said was, “I want to do it all.” He learned to milk cows and worked in the barn. It was so different from what he had experienced in his life in Germany, and he was so enthusiastic. He just had this great outlook and wanted to explore. So I encourage students to be like Nabil: throw yourselves into exploration.